Colorado National Monument

Grand Junction, Colorado | C.1911

Photo Credit: Accidentally Wes Anderson


For some, a hobby is a quirky collection of stamps. For one man, however, his passion was caretaking 32 square miles of uninhabited, and now infamous, land. 

While most human visitors thought the area that now makes up Colorado National Monument to be uninhabitable, the eccentric John Otto decided to set up shop in what he believed to be “the heart of the world.” Building trails and creating pathways on his own in the early 20th Century, Otto bestowed names on the amazing million-year-old rock formations, such as Independence Monument, the Kissing Couple, and Coke Ovens. Organizing small tour groups and waxing poetic about the area to anyone who would listen, it would be Otto’s independent efforts that would lead to a delegation asking the U.S. Congress to designate 20,000 acres to be preserved. 

Under the U.S. Antiquities Act, President William Taft would declare the land a national monument in 1911, with Otto as its first park ranger and manager. With a hefty salary of $1 a year, Otto would serve as the park’s custodian for over 16 years, building roads and access points for visitors to take in the unique rugged landscape and now famous Monument Valley. Further cementing his passion for the miles of national monument acreage, he would actually get married within the park the same year that it was federally recognized, though alas it only lasted a few weeks. Colorado National Monument was his one true love.  

Today, over 730,000 visitors enjoy the eroded landscape of Otto’s magnum opus. While there have been recent pushes to make the national monument a national park, the area has risen in popularity regardless of its title. Upkeep is currently a larger amount than $1 per year. 

Written By: Seamus McMahon

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